On Reclaiming Hope in Corrupt Times . . . .

One of the many things I appreciate about the Bible is its capacity to speak through the ages. Corruption is nothing new.  The Apostle Paul, knowing his remaining days were probably few, wrote these words to warn and encourage Timothy, a godly young man he regarded as a son:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,
boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,
ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous,
without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,
treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure
rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.”

II Timothy 3:1-5

Sound at all familiar? When I first read this passage three decades ago, I was struck by how it mirrored what was happening then. As I read it today . . . I weep.

We see the effects of corruption all around us. In the Counseling Room, many pour out their anger, their fears, their confusion and their regrets in having been caught up in the lies of corruption.  Depression and anxiety are commonplace, as hope appears impossibly distant.  It is my role and privilege to point them to a God who is alive and well and worthy of their trust:

“May the God of HOPE
fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

The question is this

How are Christians to respond when corruption appears to abound?

Are we to cut ourselves off from those who have been caught up in such evil? I think not. I think what Paul is warning Timothy to avoid, is coming under the influence of false teachers who fan corruption into flame through their teaching and actions.

I believe that in times such as these, we are called to be courageous in loving those God puts on our path according to Christ’s teaching:

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you . . . .

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Luke 6:27-28; 36 and 37

When we do this, we reflect the same determination and courage it took for Christ to love us sacrificially.  How are we to do this?

  • By remembering what Christ said to His disciples on the night of His arrest:

In this world you WILL have trouble . . . .”
John 16 :33

We cannot afford to be naive about sin. As we navigate the challenges of living in this fallen world, we all too easily crumble and lose sight of hope as we doubt God’s goodness.

Speaking from experience:

  • Remember that we cannot manufacture Christ’s love in and of ourselves. (When we do, we are doomed to failure.) It is only as we rely on God’s Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Scriptures, that we receive the strength and courage needed to love others as Christ loved us. Such love is found only in the peace offered to us by Christ:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”
John 14: 27 

Reflecting the call of Jesus to not let trouble or fear weaken us, Paul offers the mechanics of how we are to move forward in the love and mercy of Christ as we encourage each other:

“Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal,
but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Romans 12:9-12, 17-21

All too often, when fear strikes we doubt God’s goodness.
We feel vulnerable . . . trapped . . . without hope.
Paul is saying, YOU HAVE OPTIONS
in how you respond to what is happening–
DO NOT LET FEAR OR ANGER GET IN THE WAY!

So what are our choices when faced with adversity in this very broken, screwed-up world?  It boils down to two:

  1. We refuse to allow fear to hold us captive in corrupt times.
  2. We instead trust God to help us offer the HOPE of Scripture.

Jesus continues to call:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28, 29

The truth is, as we remember Christ’s call
and reclaim HOPE in corrupt times,
His light will shine through us to a desperately needy world.

All to His Glory!

 

Sandpaper People . . . .

It had been months since Stella* and I had connected, so it was great to meet her for lunch last week. Of course there was a good bit of laughter shared between us, but we also talked about some hard stuff involving what I generally refer to as, the sandpaper people in our lives.

“Sandpaper people?” you may well ask.  Sandpaper people are the people in our lives who grate on our nerves by simply walking into the same room we are in.  They are often:

  1. People we have to work with– who we might otherwise avoid!
  2. People who irritate us when their views do not align with our own or,
  3. People who fail to live up to our expectations.

On a personal level, the hard thing about sandpaper people
is that they grate on our nerves and frustrate us–
often triggering unkind, sinful responses!  

As the exchange between Stella and I continued I wondered, “Lord, is there a better way to deal with the irritation that sandpaper people cause?  How would YOU have us deal with such people who bring out the worst in us?” 

“He has risen just as He said!” Matthew 28:6

As I empathized with Stella’s lament, the answer to my question floated into my mind with the unexpected thought, “Put on love . . . .”  I tried to brush it away, as if it was a persistent fly buzzing my ear. But as Stella talked about an irritating co-worker, I found myself less able to focus on her words as the answer that began as a whisper grew louder in my mind: “Put on love!” 

Finally, I told Stella about my struggle.  Thinking the phrase was something the Apostle Paul wrote, I asked her to look it up on her cell phone–I’m helpless when it comes to doing such things!  Within minutes she found the phrase in a letter Paul wrote to his friends in Colossians.  As I slurped my soup Stella read these words aloud:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
AND OVER ALL THESE VIRTUES PUT ON LOVE,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14

Oblivious to the activity around us as she read, I remembered how the passage had helped me in the past.  I told Stella about how Paul’s words had encouraged me when it reminded me of my identity in Christ: 

Chosen . . . holy . . . and dearly loved by God.

I shared how in the past, when struggling with a sandpaper person,  Paul’s letter showed me how in Christ we have options to choose from . . . options that do not lead to sin:

Where frustration, anger or bitterness urge a haughty response,
Paul encourages us to put on one of Christ’s robes of
compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience
and, yes,  even love.
As I have prayerfully confessed my temptation to sin
and given thanks for His love and mercy,
His Peace has become my own.

Since our lunch date, I have continued to think about how God blesses us through sandpaper people.  When tempted to hate or resent such a person, Jesus urges His own.to love and pray for our enemies!**.  When I have obeyed this command, He has lightened the burden in my heart and freed me to avoid the path of bitterness and resentment. Best of all, through this process He has freed me to live for, love and serve Him with an exceedingly glad heart.

This past Palm Sunday I gained a fresh insight that I am still processing:

Not all sandpaper people are negative.
God uses them to mature and draw us closer to Himself.
Jesus was (and continues to be)
a sandpaper person to all who encounter Him!

As we remember Christ’s Crucifixion on Friday–demonstrating mans hatred for what we might call, God’s Ultimate Sandpaper Person–we can rejoice in the knowledge that Sunday’s celebration marks the day Redemption was won for all who trust in Him.

No matter what you may be facing in your life,  no matter how overwhelmed you may feel . . . you are NOT alone.  As Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Sunday approach, be encouraged and learn from Christ’s sacrificial demonstration of “putting on love” for you and for me . . . ❤

Rejoicing in Him–Happy Easter!

All to His Glory!

*Not her real name.
**“”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:43-45b

 

On Dealing With Fear and Bullies . . . .

This is the second in a series of posts featuring spiritual lessons God taught me through my family.  Over the years these stories have been helpful to many a Client; I share them now in the hope that they might also encourage you. ❤️

There is much talk about bullies/abusers in the world today, but bullies have been around since the beginning.  It was their fear of bullies, that resulted in Israel having to march around in the wilderness for forty years*; and Goliath (of David and Goliath fame) was nothing more than an oversized bully.

Of our three children, Amy (our middle child), was the most fearful. Amy was afraid of (or was resistant to) such things as:

  • Volcanoes. When we received orders to move to England, our then four-year-old middle asked with serious intensity in her voice: “Are there volcanoes in England?” (All these years later, we still laugh that if we’d received orders to Hawaii, we would never have been able to get her on the airplane!)
  • A boy in our village named Christopher Blackman.  I doubt that Christopher (who was probably about 10 and DID have a bad reputation) had any idea that our little Amy had stopped going to the village shop for sweeties (candy) because she was afraid he might be there.  Also, he probably was unaware that she immediately hid herself behind a garden wall or bushes if she saw him when walking home from school.
  • Pick-pocketers.  After traveling into London on a train, we heard an announcement warning that pick-pocketers had been active in the area that morning.  Amy clutched the little purse I had made for her tightly against her chest as she said, “They should make them wear uniforms so we can tell who they are!”
  • Learning to write–because she knew she wouldn’t be able to write as well as her sister–Amy resisted the pressure to learn to write.)

    Amy

Yet despite her fears, Amy could also be the most courageous.  When she saw a smaller classmate being bullied, she took it upon herself to stick up for them.  On one such occasion, Amy was quite surprised when the bigger kid (not Christopher) knocked her down.  Fighting back tears, Amy got up and yelled passionately, “I FORGIVE YOU!”  (I heard later that the bully looked quite embarrassed as he slunk off!)

When I learned about the incident I was both stunned and proud.  I had to admit that Amy’s response demonstrated a special courage and biblical wisdom that I lacked.

COURAGE defined: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

True courage demonstrates moral strength to withstand danger despite our fears
as we take our stand against evil.

God chose to teach our family a deeper lesson through Amy’s second fear: Christopher Blackman.

BULLY defined: “a blustering, browbeating person . . . one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.”  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

Our youngest, Luke (about 2 1/2 years old at the time), was notoriously friendly toward anyone he met.  While taking Luke out to the local playing field in his stroller, Luke reached out to Christopher–who I had no idea was THE Christopher Blackman!  Soon after, Christopher began showing up by our garden wall calling out for Luke.  Having found out WHO the boy was, I kept Luke inside at first.  But I remembered what Jesus taught about dealing with enemies in Luke 6:27, 28,

Luke
with Christopher Blackman

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.”

As we (Amy and I) began to pray for Christopher, something unexpected happened: God softened our hearts.  I began to see that Christopher genuinely held a special affection for Luke–who Christopher called, “Lu-key”.  As I made some inquiries around our village I learned that Christopher was in foster care and was waiting to be placed in a special school. (He had been put out of the village school because of something he’d done.)  We reached out to Christopher’s foster parents and learned that because his foster mom was quite ill with diabetes, she put him out of the house after he’d had his breakfast each day to roam the village.  I realized that Christopher was showing up at our garden wall, because he was lonely while all the other children were in school.

What happened next is really kind of a blur.  We began by allowing Christopher into our garden and it wasn’t long until he became a special part of our lives.  I cannot tell you how long it was before Christopher and a couple of his friends began attending church with us.  Looking back, I do not recall even a hint of Christopher’s bad reputation being expressed in our time with him.

You may be wondering about Amy in all of this?  Well, she now says that Christopher probably DID push her down, sat on her and pounded on her back one day before he became a special part of our family.  But when she saw how he liked her little brother and saw our genuine concern for Christopher, she was okay with it.  Besides, even as a child, Amy said, she “figured that it was what Christian families were supposed to do!”

Soon after we returned to the States Christopher started at his new school.  We wrote back and forth for a while but then lost touch with him.  After all these years, I still wonder what he did with his life and would love to see him again.

So what did I learn from my children about dealing with fear and bullies?

  1. To take sin seriously–my own included–in difficult relationships.  Romans 12:9 says, “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”  God is both sovereign and good and worthy of our trust.
  2. To faithfully pray for my enemy.  I have learned that by doing this God keeps my heart soft. Praying for my enemy also opens the door to miracles, as God also can work in the heart of the bully/abuser.  James 4:7 hits the mark with this counsel: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
  3. To trust God to provide courage to resist being run by my fears. By standing up to bullies/abusers (and asking others to pray where needed) the sin is exposed for what it is.  The wisdom contained in Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare, lends powerful encouragement to all who seek Christ’s help:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when (not if) the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then . . . .”

Ephesians 6:10-14

After 25 years of counseling, I have learned (where bullying/abuse is concerned) that prayer and getting help (be it in the church or by calling on the civil authorities) to stop the pattern of abuse is the best course.

To allow the sin of abuse to continue without addressing it,
encourages disrespect in the heart of the abuser toward the one being abused.
To call for outside help often forces the abuser to face the ugliness of their sin.  

In the end, there is opportunity on both sides of the relationship, for spiritual growth to take place as God works in both hearts.

All to His Glory

*Press here–> Joshua 5:6, to read the text.